Black Skimmer at the beach

© Don DesJardin

One look at a Black Skimmer's bill, and you know this is a very special bird. The lower mandible is more than an inch longer than the upper. Why? As it flies, the Black Skimmer drops its knife-thin beak into the water. Once it hits a fish – snap – the hinged upper mandible quickly closes shut. This tactile form of feeding allows skimmers to hunt for fish at all times of day, even at night. Interestingly, skimmers are the only known birds with vertical "cat-like" pupils, an adaptation that protects the eye from harsh sunlight over water and sand.

Watch a video of a skimmer skimming.

Listen to the BirdNote show Why the Black Skimmer Skims.

Do you want to see how thin this bill really is? Check out the cover of our 2011 Annual Report.